Nil by mouth @ FoodDesign2012

Interesting day today at FoodDesign 2012 at london’s Metropolitan University. Supporting Brendan Walker with some live technology for his keynote “nil by mouth” Where we (surprise surprise) strapped up a couple of willing victims with a bunch of biomonitoring kit – ECG, EDA, EEG and EMG on this occasion, having starved them for the preceding 24 hours and watched their data live as they tucked into some delicious cheese, port, pie and chocolate – Ocado’s finest range no doubt.

A bit exciting in the few minutes heading up to the talk when my computer decide to have a fit, but all was good in the end and it worked out well. Very pleased with our new “rev counter” style arc charts for data visualisation in vicarious – though they’re not terribly practical. In practice, we only fed one participant – but presented the data for both while the second vicariously, or perhaps just jealously experienced the eating pleasure. Some very nice and clear indications of arousal and neural activity. Interesting momentary delay between eating the food and the arousal spike. Presumably that’s simply the activation delay of saliva breaking down the food enough for the tastebuds to function and send to the sensory receptors. The result of that was that the arousal spike for the non-eater was actually faster than that for the eater. On the whole Brendan’s talk seemed to go down well – lots of positive questions and comments afterwards.

The rest of the day was much more relaxed, here in the glorious london sunshine. As one might expect from a food design conference, lunch was pretty good. In fact it was bollocks. Not the dog’s in this case, but some poor lamb’s. The menu consisted of “Lamb’s testicles on cous cous”, “Jellyfish Salad,” “Seaweed Snaks,” “Yoghurt and Bee Vomit” and some Popping candy: liberal quantities of which I liberated after the event.

Other highlights involved a display of a 10x10x4.4m “Carrot Experience” aimed at getting children to love carrots, and a fascinating talk about building cultural identity through ceramics: using cider mugs as a lovely example – my favourite of which was one which had the word “Moderation” written vertically on the inside, to be revealed as one partook and thus rejected moderation.

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Lies, Damned Lies and Biodata

Lies, Damned Lies and Biodata Gameshow

Recently, we performed an experiment dressed up as a gameshow with the title Lies, Damned Lies and Biodata (a nod to “Lies, damned lies and statistics” –  Benjamin Disraeli for those who failed to pick up the reference). In practice we aimed to explore to what extent lay-people could “read” biodata when presented to them in a fairly raw form (just some line graphs and an EEG heat map).

The aim of the game was for the audience to guess whether or not a person was lying or telling the truth by looking at the presented biodata. The liar (or not) stood at the front of the stage and a picture was shown. They were asked a question about the picture and secretly informed whether they should lie or tell the truth. So for example the picture might be of their house – and they might be asked “is this your house” and told to lie, alternatively they might be asked to tell the truth. Or they might be shown a completely different house and asked the same question with the same conditions. It was a little confusing, but ultimately quite a successful experiment.

We dressed it up as a gameshow, complete with prizes, cheesy music and all the verbal silliness implied in the title. On the whole, the day seemed to go down fairly well. All the players did pretty much as was asked, with a couple of accidental exceptions and the audience, few as they were in the end did kind of get behind the game.

I take from this experience several key findings:

  • Biodata is difficult to read without some explanation
  • Playing with truth and lies is fun as long as everybody gets in on the game
  • I’m not a natural born presenter

We hope to explore for the recorded data what subsets of information are usable to increase or decrease the facility we have for lie detection. Obviously a standard lie detector uses many of these biosensors, so there is a precedent there – my interest is in whether there is a way to present this stuff that allows it to be read without any special training.

All in all a fun day out.